On 13 February 2008, Australia’s then prime minister, Kevin Rudd, apologised to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for the removal of children from their families, culture and country, writes photographer Matthew Sherwood.
In the Northern Territory between 1911 and the 1960s, thousands of children were taken from their homes and placed in government and church-run missions. Family connections were severed, languages lost, mental and sometimes sexual abuse occurred.
The children were made wards of the state until they were 18, then cast off, often without the education or social skills needed to build a quality of life for themselves. Some eventually found their roots, though most never saw their families again.
Land rights and royalties which were their birthrights were lost and precedent-setting lawsuits against the commonwealth failed. Of the roughly 2,500 children taken in Nothern Territory, less than 300 are still alive. They are living in hope that the federal government will compensate them for their suffering – and are dying in despair as they wait.
Joyce was taken from Phillip Creek in Northern Territory in 1947, with 15 other children, and placed in the Retta Dixon home in Darwin. She was not quite two years old.
Joyce says she was sexually abused during her time at Retta Dixon, and volunteered her testimony to the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse. She remained in Retta Dixon for more than 15 years until she married in 1963.
“A lot us in my age group sort of married the first man we met and unfortunately most of marriages didn’t last because, you know, I think when you grow up in a mission you’re not nurtured, you’re not nursed, you’re not hugged, you’re not given any love. How can you give love if you’ve never known love? Most of us went from the mission into an abusive relationship.
A lot of that, I’m sure, had to do with the mission. I think that’s what upset us most: the fact that we didn’t know where we came from. We didn’t know where our family was. We didn’t know who we belonged to … definitely stolen generation, and lost, lost generation as well. Most of us were lost for all that time. And even though you meet your family, even though I met Mum and everything, you don’t get that closeness with your mother because you were taken away.”
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